Category Archives: Brighton, UK 2017

Hidden Treasure: Undiscovered Footage of Gerry Mulligan on SS Norway

There’s a lot to sift through in the Altman-Koss archives: the videos are long, they span a 75-year period, and the performers are sometimes barely known and other times household names, like Louis Armstrong or Ella Fitzgerald. While much of what I’m finding is up on YouTube or at least traceable via Google search, every once in a while I come across something totally unique and quite valuable.

My favourite instance of this so far is a video of Gerry Mulligan’s quartet performing on the SS Norway Jazz Cruise in 1995. This cruise journeys the Caribbean, launching from Miami and on to the Bahamas, St. Marteen, and St. Thomas, with epic line-ups of jazz shows on-board. A lot of the cruise is documented for advertising purposes, but little of the content is actually recorded.

liiiner

Now, Gerry Mulligan is big in the jazz world for bringing in Chet Baker, the trumpet player, but also for his innovations – for example, removing the piano from the quintet, which apparently shocked jazzers and revolutionized the way quintets do things. So Altman-Koss #44, a private recording of his performance on this cruise, was already interesting to me, despite the low video quality. But what made it appear invaluable was finding this quote from Phil Woods, another saxophone player on the cruise, speaking about it on Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective:

“I saw Gerry just before he died, when he was playing on a jazz cruise on the SS Norway in November 1995. Gene Lees and Johnny Mandel were there, and we all hung out with Gerry and had a great time, even though we realized it might be the last time we saw him. He was playing beautifully, more poignantly than ever. He was a lovely writer, and he played some of his new tunes, and the group with Ted Rosenthal, Dean Johnson, and Ron Vincent sounded great. He performed from a chair, and I’m sure he knew it might be his final performance, but he was playing so well and finding new ways. I’d love a tape of that concert, because there wasn’t a dry eye in my part of the house.”

-Phil Woods, Ch. 27 of Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective by Gordon Jack

gerry-mulligan

Gerry Mulligan died two months after the performance, in January 2006. According to Phil, not only was this performance one of his last, but it was also one of his best. And it’s possible we may have found the only recording of it, hidden in this archive. I wish Phil himself were still alive; I’d try and send him the video.

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Touchdown in the UK

Hey all! As usual, this blog is getting a jump-start for the summer so I have a place to share where I’m going and what I’m doing musically. This time around I’ll be in the United Kingdom, stationed at the University of Sussex in Brighton (I’ve actually been here for a couple of days now, though the jet lag makes it feel like way more than that).

brighton

As for what I’m doing here: after graduating from the Bachelor of Music program at UC Santa Cruz, I was nominated for an International Junior Research Associate at the University of Sussex, to work on sorting out and building up the Altman-Koss Jazz Archive, the content of which was donated a little while back by John Altman and Eric Koss. The two musicians, themselves highly distinguished in the world of jazz, spent years recording and archiving as many jazz performances as they could – the result is a massive collection of 1600 VHS tapes, each 2.5 hours long. A few hundred of them have been digitized already, and my job will be to rifle through the collection looking for any rare or noteworthy performances, as well as to create a database so that other jazz-lovers can access it and do the same.

This “Private Collection of  a Video Freak” (the collectors’ words) spans music from the 1920s (perhaps earlier – we’ll find out) through to the early 2000s. It has huge sections dedicated to performances by very famous jazz musicians (there’s well over 70 hours of footage just of Oscar Peterson), but also names that bring up nothing on YouTube (and very little on Google).

Will keep active as I explore more of Brighton and the collection. Hoping to come across some gems.